German Jihadist Killed in US Drone Attack

Photo Gallery: War with the Click of a MouseA US Army drone strike in March killed a German citizen who had joined the jihad in Pakistan. His death has the potential to reignite the debate over the legitimacy of air strikes by unmanned drones and may increase diplomatic tensions with the US.

Her grayish-blue eyes are swollen from crying. Cirsten B. sits on the couch in her small apartment in the western German city of Aachen and presses her folded hands into her lap. She’s searching for words for something a mother has no words for — because it simply can’t be true.

The 54-year-old, born in the eastern German state of Thuringia, married a Tunisian man and converted to Islam 25 years ago. Now she has lost two children to jihad. In the fall of 2009, they secretly slipped away to join the holy war. Her son, Samir, was the first to go, followed a month later by Soumaia, her youngest daughter.

“I’ll never see Samir again,” Cirsten B. says as she glances over at a computer. For two and a half years, that computer kept her in sporadic contact with her children in the mountainous Pakistani region of Waziristan. News of her son’s death also reached her via Skype.

After months of silence, Soumaia finally made contact in March. The 21-year-old spoke to her mother about the amana, a blessing that Allah entrusted to her care, but had now taken back. “But not Samir?” the mother asked. “Yes,” Soumaia answered. “They were on their way back home when an American drone fired on their vehicle.”

Diplomatic Powder Keg

On the morning of March 9, 29-year-old Samir H. was in a large pickup truck in southern Waziristan when a remote-controlled US Army drone, several kilometers high, took aim at the vehicle. Reports indicate that at least one of the three rockets launched by the drone hit the target and destroyed the pickup truck carrying up to 12 suspected Taliban and foreign fighters.

The fact that the strike killed a German national lends it diplomatic precarity. With its attacks in Waziristan, the United States has been operating in a gray zone of international law. On the one hand, members of the Afghan Taliban are hiding out in the region. On the other, however, Pakistan is officially at peace. Given these circumstances, is it still permissible to launch pre-emptive strikes using military means?

US President Barack Obama has answered this question with a clear “yes.” In recent years, the American military’s Joint Special Operations Command has massively increased the number of operations it conducts with unmanned aircrafts in the war on terror. Roughly 800 drones are currently in use in the Hindu Kush region and North Africa. According to one US study, some 2,000 people in Pakistan alone have been visited by death from the sky.

The case of Samir H. has been kept secret until now. But in Germany at least, it could reignite the debate over the legitimacy of America’s air war. This isn’t the first time that a German citizen has fallen victim to a drone attack. In October 2010, Bünyamin E., a 20-year-old German of Turkish descent from the western city of Wuppertal, was killed on the outskirts of the town of Mir Ali, in Waziristan.

At the time, this incident sparked serious political debates within Germany because the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) had provided American intelligence agencies with information related to Bünyamin E.’s departure from Germany and cell-phone usage. In response, Germany’s Interior Ministry issued tighter regulations and instructed the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, to no longer relay information to German allies that would allow them to locate German citizens.

It remains unclear what led up to the strike on the pickup truck and the death of Samir H. His mother is demanding that the German government launch an investigation into the attack. “That was murder,” she claims.


Spiegel has the full article

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